Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Leaving Your Lamarck": The Case of the Midwife Toads

A Radiolab segment called "Leaving Your Lamarck" discusses some controversy that occurred in the early 1900s with Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer. Kammerer had dedicated his life to trying to prove Lamarck's theory of how certain traits were inherited. One specific example of his work was trying to get certain animals to reproduce in environments they were not evolved to reproduce in.

A specific case in this instance was when he tried to get midwife toads to reproduce in the water when they did not have the proper anatomy to do this. So, he put them in tanks and turned the heat up so much that the toads were forced to enter the water and mate. Understandably, it was difficult for the toads, as they were slippery and didn't have the proper grip to do this successfully, but after much struggle, mating ensued. To everyone's astonishment, within two generations, the toads had developed nuptial pads on their feet to give them more traction underwater. This obviously exploded in the scientific community, potentially proving Lamark's theory.

The rest of the story, ending in fire, a research misconduct scandal, and death, is one that you should probably listen to.

The second half of the talk is about epigenetics in rats who lick their young vs. rats who don't lick their young. I'm not making this the central topic of this post because we didn't cover this topic too much in class, however I would still recommend listening to that half of the segment.

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